Thursday 01 December, 2016

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (16:55): I rise today to speak to the Electoral (Legislative Council Voting) (Voter Choice) Amendment Bill 2016 and, in doing so, indicate that I will not be the lead speaker for the opposition—I reserve that for my good colleague, the member for Bragg.


The Liberal Party will be opposing the bill. This bill was introduced by the Attorney-General on 16 November this year, and the government has described it in the past as the voter choice system of voting. However, it is interesting to note that it has been perceived as everything other than that by outsiders. It has been perceived by outsiders, third parties, and members of the media especially as 'grubby vote-grabbing', as I read in The Advertiser earlier this month. What the bill before us today aims to do, according to the Attorney-General is:

…to make it easier for people to understand the implications of their vote and to have control over their vote and their preferences.

However, it appears that the proposal before the house today is more likely to stop people from voting for minor parties which, in a sense, stops smaller parties from accumulating votes from a very small percentage of original support. In my view it takes control from the voter unless voters engage in the somewhat arduous task of marking every single box below the line. Whilst some voters may actually enjoy that process, I know that a lot of voters, unfortunately, do not.

Since the 2013 federal election—and even before that but especially since that election—a number of concerns were raised by the public concerning something called preference harvesting in response to the federal parliament introducing reform. In the 2016 election, you could number six or more boxes, I believe, above the line and 12 or more boxes below the line. This meant that you could vote for individual candidates in any order you wanted without having to fill out the whole sheet. The results of the 2016 election have, in turn, shown some improvement.

However, since the 2014 state election, a number of bills have gone before this parliament, but they still have not been finalised, to amend the Electoral Act relating to Legislative Council voting. This seems to be a common theme. There has been an array of bills. I note that since the 2014 state election, various bills have been introduced but not finalised, including the Electoral (Legislative Council) (Optional Preferential Voting) Amendment Bill 2014, the Electoral (Legislative Council Voting Thresholds) Amendment Bill 2015, the Electoral (Legislative Council Voting) Amendment Bill 2015, Sainte-Laguë and so forth.

There seems to be no appetite for the Sainte-Laguë model on this side of the chamber. I think it is fair to say that optional preferential voting certainly has some considerable attraction on this side. I know that the Attorney has taken the time to meet with some members of our house in the past and has spoken about a reform similar to that of the Senate reform. However, when it has come back it has not provided that—that is for sure.

The Attorney's bill before us today, whilst we were told to expect similar reform to the Senate reform, is really quite different. It puts forward a plan that I believe is, quite frankly, very bad. If the bill before us were to pass, it would make four key changes: firstly, it removes voting tickets from the Legislative Council election and, secondly, it allows voters to vote 1 above the line to signify their party choice, inclusive of all people nominated by the party. This is known as the 'party group vote' and will be a vote for each of the candidates in that party, as nominated by the party.

Thirdly, it will also change the interpretation of ballot papers to be understood where a person only votes 1 for the lead candidate below the line. This will be interpreted as a vote for the whole party above the line. Fourthly, it allows the validity of the vote to be determined by which part, either above or below the line, has been filled out in its entirety as to the intention of the vote. For example, if the above the line has only been partially filled, but below the line is fully completed, the below the line vote would constitute the valid vote.

I believe that the state would do well to avoid implementing different schemes at the state and federal level. I see benefit in keeping consistency in the interests of the public. In South Australia, we currently have a Legislative Council with multiple minority parties, and some voters argue that there is no basis for change at all. Whilst I am for the polishing of legislation, I am strongly opposed to the bill, which is being called a flagrant attempt to subvert democracy. I will be opposing the bill.